How do you choose the right Email Marketing Service Provider for you business? The answer depends on your goals and budget. If you are going to do-it-yourself, it will also depend on your time, abilities and your interest in learning. This post makes the following assumptions in attempt to provide a more detailed answer:
- You are a small business owner
- Your goal is to use email marketing to grow revenues
- You want to do it yourself
What You Need to Know About Email Marketing Service Providers
You can find hundreds of Email Marketing Service Providers (EMSPs) to choose from using the Internet. They all provide the same core functionality – the ability to send bulk email. Some cater specifically to large businesses, others to medium-sized, and still others to small businesses.
You can greatly simplify your search by only looking at EMSPs that cater to your market segment – in this case, small businesses. EMSPs that cater to small businesses have the simplicity, training, support, and pricing that will be the most appealing and helpful in getting started quickly.
As your level of sophistication and your email list grows, pricing and need for key features may drive you to an EMSP that typically caters to larger companies. But don’t be in a rush. Many very large companies successfully use the email marketing platforms of EMSPs that cater to small companies. Keeping things simple in the beginning will help you get off to a faster start.
Why Choose an Email Marketing Service Provider?
While you can probably figure out how to send bulk emails without using an EMSP, there are so many compelling reasons to working with an EMSP partner, you would be crazy not to.
Here are some of the most compelling reasons:
- Convenience – EMSPs give you access to their powerful email marketing software including everything you need to create emails, run campaigns, and measure results using a single dashboard. It would take countless hours to assemble all the necessary tools to do it yourself. Doing it yourself, you would more than likely end-up with a clunky, piece-meal, time-consuming and unreliable process for sending out marketing emails.
- Best Practices – If you want to look professional, there are many design, execution, and legal considerations when sending out marketing emails. Most EMSPs build these considerations into the tools they provide helping to prevent you from making mistakes. Using their tools will help you look and execute email campaigns that are competitive with the big boys. Additionally, they often provides gobs of free training.
- Legal Compliance – Avoidance of U.S. and foreign regulations is a VERY strong reason to partner with and EMSP. There are VERY strict regulations that you must follow when sending out marketing emails. The law in the U.S. that you must comply with is called the CAN-Spam Act. Failure to comply with CAN-Spam rules can result in significant fines for your business. Once again, the EMSPs come to the rescue. Their software was designed with these regulations in mind and helps you avoid making mistakes.
EMSPs also monitor your email sends helping to make sure you are following CAN-Spam rules. They will let you know very quickly if your email sends are not compliant. While EMSPs play an supremely important role in helping you meet regulatory requirements, the ultimate responsibility is yours alone.
What You Need to Know About Pricing
EMSPs typically charge users a monthly rate based on the number of emails sent per month and/or the number of email addresses stored in their system. However, many EMSPs offer free trials for 30-90 days. A few EMSPs even offer free limited use of their service if you keep the number of emails you send each month below a certain threshold.
At low volumes, the features and pricing are similar between EMSPs, however, this cost comparison can quickly diverge as your volume of emails grows. It pays to anticipate that your email list will grow. You will want to spend some time comparing what the pricing plans of different EMSPs to estimate what you will be paying after you grow out of their free plans.
A Great Place to Start
Given you are a small business owner just getting started with Email Marketing, a great place to start is with a free plan from one of the better-known EMSPs like Mail Chimp, Constant Contact or AWeber.
All these EMSPs provide excellent starter services with a slew of features and training. If you are like most email marketers, you will probably try several platforms before picking one for long-term use.
You will find that all of the suggested platforms are user-friendly and have more features than you will use initially. Experiment with the different features and get a feel for how easy the system is for you to use. You will quickly discover which features are important and if the ergonomics are suitable. If you are not happy, move on to the next EMSP’s free trial. For example, the first EMSP you test may not be intuitive or easy for you to use. Or, you may discover it doesn’t have a key feature that you really need. Go try another EMSP.
Checklist: How to Choose an Email Marketing Service Provider
- Free trial – Look for at least a 30-90 day free trial.
- Ease of Use – This is very personal. Everyone’s brain seems to work differently. What is intuitive for one person may be confusing for another. There are enough choices available that you should be able to find one that meets your needs. Don’t worry initially about which EMSP has the longest list of features. You won’t use them all initially and added complexity may slow you down.
- Training & Support – The more support your EMSP provides the better. Look for phone, email, chat, community and FAQ support.
- Regulatory Compliance Support– The EMSP you choose should help you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act via their terms-of-use policies, training, and software
- Simplicity/Ease of Use –The limited feature set typically offered with a free trial can be a good thing. Email Marketing software can get very complex. We have found that what is simple for one person may be complex for another. This is a good reason to experiment with multiple EMSPs as you get started.
- Free Template Libraries – Free libraries of email and newsletter templates will make it easy to have a professional look and save you oodles of time.
- CRM Integration – As you get more experienced, you will probably want to start gathering more data about your email list subscribers. Currently, EMSPs provide only a couple of small fields where you can save data. Plan ahead. Make sure email software you select has a pre-built API (aka integration) to one or more Customer Relationship Management System platforms like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics or Hubspot. You don’t have to use a CRM but someday the benefits of using one may become impossible to live without!
- Pricing – Start with a free account but prepare for growth. Compare pricing for several EMSPs at different volume thresholds. You will find dramatic differences between EMSPs.
- No Annual Contract – Do not sign up for any service that requires more than one month’s commitment. You will want the flexibility to change EMSPs.
- List Segmentation – You want the ability to segment your email list based on customer preferences, demographics, etc.
- A/B Testing – You need this feature to test email content prior to sending it out to see what works best (e.g. is Subject Line 1 better than Subject Line 2).
- Analytics and Reports – You want a wide variety of pre-built reports that will help you manage campaigns, track ROI, deliverability, email open rates, and link click-through rates.
- Automation – Email Marketing software is constantly evolving and increasingly capable of automating routine email marketing tasks.
Email Marketing Service Provider Reviews
For your convenience, here are links to several comparisons of Email Marketing Service Providers:
About NextStep Partners, LLC
We help small business owners use email marketing to grow their revenues.
Our services include:
- Selection and implementation of an Email Marketing platform
- Ad-hoc or ongoing support on special projects and campaigns
- Complete Outsourcing
If you prefer not to run an email marketing effort yourself, you can fully outsource it to NextStep Partners. This allows you to avoid the learning curve and ongoing time commitment at a fraction of the cost of doing it yourself.
Working with us, you are likely to achieve a superior look, execution, and result than what the you could achieve on your own.